Most coaches are quick to claim credit for the achievements of their students. But Pallotti High School girls' track coach John Parker makes no such pretense about the discovery of his protege, Teri Ellis.
"It all satrted with one question: 'Do you want to run track?" said Parker, 31, who admitted to combing the halls of the Catholic school in Laurel when he began coaching in the spring of 1975, asking any girl who appeared athletic to join his team.
"I was teaching here and I took over the girls' track program . . . and I was trying to hustle as many athletes as possible. She looked like an athlete, so I asked her. We needed a hurdler, so she ran the hurdles and bingo.
"I think I was as surprised as she was when she turned out to be good," added Parker, who is a part-time coach at Pallotti and works as intramual director of Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Northeast Washington.
"I probably didn't even know I had anything until she went (raced) against other people. I just notice she was a hell of a lot better than the girls she was going against . . . (in her sophomore year) at this meet at Wilde Lake (high schhol in Columbia), she ran against his girl from Wilde Lake (Denise Lawrence, then record holder in the 80-yard hurdles) and cleaned her clocks. "I said I must have something here."
"I never thought I'd be good at track. I never even thought about winning or anything," said Ellis, 17, who lives at 5500 54th Ave. in Riverdale.
"In the seventh and eighth grade, I ran at Parkdale (high school in Riverdale) in the summer and I was pretty bad. I just did it for the fun of it. I like running, but I never won or anything," she said.
In less than three years, Ellis has developed into a premier long jumper and "one of the best hurdlers around," said parker. Ellis holds the Washington area high school record with a clocking of 14.1 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles and Parker predicts she will own the area marks for the 200-meter hurdles and long jump before she graduates in June.
Ellis has been timed in 28.8 in the 200-meter hurdles, only two-tenths of a second slower than the area record of 28.6 set by Sue White of Walt Whitman High School of Bethesda. Ellis, who long jumped 19 feet, 3 3/4 inches in regional qualifying for the Junior Olympics in Lynchburg, Va., last year, actually bettered the 1975 mark of 19 3 1/2 of Denies Washington of DuVal High School of Lanham, but Ellis' feat is not recognized as an area standard.
As a tribute to her ability, Ellis was invited to compete in the women's open 60-yard high hurdles competition in the Catholic Youth Organization meet recently staged at the University of Maryland. She finished fifth in the seven-woman field with a 8.3 clocking.
In her one trip to national competition, Ellis placed 10th in the long jump and failed to make the finals in the 400-meter hurdles in last August's Junior Olympics in Lincoln, Neb., a showing she termed "pretty bad, personally." Ellis now would like to shave two-tenths of a second off her fastest clocking in the 100-meter hurdles and register 7.9 in time to qualify for the indoor nationals Feb. 24 in New York City's Madison Square Garden.
Training for the indoor season at Pallotti literally involves taking advantage of every moment possible for practice. Ellis does not compete in the long jump indoors because there are no facilities to practice on; [WORD ILLEGIBLE] her practice in the hurdles comes in the school halls where she sets up the 30-inch-high obstacles before and after school.
"A lot of people get in the way," said the 5-foot-7, 115-pound Ellis, who played on the girls' soccer team last fall. "Basically, I just wait patiently for them to leave. You have to be dedicated, because there's a lot of excuses not to work."
Parker credits Ellis' dedication as the main reason for her success. "She takes it very seriously," the coach said. "She's a technician. She's in two technique events, the hurdles and the long jump. Terri's very particular about her technique and she's done it in virtual silence. She doesn't blow her horn a lot."
Ellis, who, with an approximate 3.5 grade average, is treasurer of the National Honor Society at school, said, "It's mostly technique and you never get everything right . . . in hurdling, there's a lot to worry about."
As spring nears, Ellis said she would like to go to the nationals and Junior Olympics during the approaching outdoor season. But more importantly, she would like to earn a scholarship to college, where she plans to study [WORD ILLEGIBLE]. Parker thinks she will have a wide choice of schools from which to choose.
"Really, my goals right now are to do well in high school (track) and go to the nationals, get a college scholarship, and run in college," Ellis said.